How perceptions of place influence investment decisions

The shadow cast by the liquidation of Bury football club will stretch far beyond the autumn of 2019.

For over 125 years, the one thing most people would have known about Bury was that it hosted a football club.

(Image: Sky News)

(Image: Sky News)

Each Saturday, the name of Bury FC was roll-called by James Alexander Gordon in the incredibly popular classified results service on TV and radio.

Bury FC was typical of the many football clubs clustered around the urban centres of the industrial north-west, early 20th century glamour fading as time marched on until its eventual demise last month.

 It’s probably fair to say Bury was always a bit of a ‘Cinderella’ club – having never won the League Championship – though its main claim to fame is a record winning FA Cup Final score of 6-0.

Yep, you guessed it, in the 1903 final didn’t Bury just go and beat Derby County by six goals in front of 63,000 fans?

Its loss though is much more than a sporting story.  

It’s a tale of the times, one that impacts on sense of place and identity – so much so that the local council is currently considering buying the club and bringing it back to life.

Truth is that identity and perception of place count as much as the reality.

Decisions are taken on easy narratives - is a place on the up, is it stagnant, or is it in decline?  Bury is in the national headlines but will it lead to a perception of decline and  investors turning away?

If there is one thing I’ve learnt in my time working in inward investment at Marketing Derby, it’s that all investment decisions are a combination of the emotional and the rational.

In fact, I’d go further and argue that most investments I’ve seen are in truth emotional decisions wrapped in rational packaging.

Yes, the numbers need to add up but what differentiates place A from place B can often be feeling, an intuition if you like, that nudges a decision to invest over the line.

Reputation counts. A good example would be a dramatic full page advert I saw last week in the Financial Times, simply headed ‘Hong Kong’.


A striking visual of that iconic skyline supported by a text, the purpose of which, was to address concerns about the current violence and unrest in an attempt to reassure investors that positive fundamentals remain and Hong Kong will ‘bounce back’.

A decision to hit the international press with full-page spreads is not taken lightly but it does show the value given to influencing perception of place.  

I’ve seen the narrative in Derby evolve from that of a first phase of seeking developer interest for our plans, to a second of land assembly, project design and submission of planning to finally seeking investment to deliver that project.

Let me illustrate that with three large city living schemes in DE1.

The Nightingale Quarter residential scheme for 800 units on the old DRI hospital site – promoted by developer Wavensmere Homes - has completed all three of these phases and work on site is imminent. Within a couple of years, people will be living there in an attractive urban village adjacent to the train station.

The dramatic 17-storey Landmark building on the city’s north riverside – promoted by Godwin Developments – has completed the first two phases and is now seeking funding for a 2020 start for its 201 apartments.

The £200m Becketwell scheme – promoted by Leeds-based St James Securities – has completed the first phase and has now started its planning journey. This ambitious scheme will deliver 342 Build-to-Rent apartments on the site vacated by Debenhams 12-years ago.

Taken together, these three schemes deliver over 1,343 much needed homes in the city centre with an eventual development value of almost £500m.

Marketing Derby has worked with our business Bondholders to support these schemes through the planning process and this will continue with the 19-storey Becketwell scheme (to be called One on the Square).

Image: (St James Securities)

Image: (St James Securities)

Developments like this are absolutely essential for that part of the city as last week’s PWC survey showing Derby as having the greatest number of retail closures in the region show.

The City Council and partners - including the Business Improvement Districts, intu and Marketing Derby - have been successful in being shortlisted for the government’s Future High Streets Fund.

A recent walk around really brought the importance of this home to me and the latest news on the closure of Bennett’s – the world’s oldest department store – doesn’t help.

Yes, perception counts but the best way to shape that is change the reality. A city that lost its central residential offer decades ago is rediscovering its mojo by providing genuine options for the many people seeking that choice.

In our submission supporting the Becketwell application, we will make it clear that there is no plan B. The site has been derelict for 30-years and if this development isn’t taken forward the area faces further decades of decline.

Which brings me back to Bury.

Last week, I had a good walk through central Manchester, a place which when I first visited it in the late 1970s seemed all but abandoned.

In contrast the cranes and urgent construction activity of Manchester today projects an ambition and confidence that is contagious. People and companies  are locating in their thousands. Investors clamour to join the party.

And yet, which destination did I see on the front of one of the city ubiquitous yellow trams?

Yep, that of Bury, where perception has bumped into a hard reality and one that I really hope can be successfully overcome, despite smashing us 6-0 back in the day!  

“Don’t just get a job, why not create your own job”!

“Don’t just get a job, why not create your own job”!

This was a phrase I often heard propagated during the last recession in 2009.

Most of us would admit this is easier said than done, most especially in tough economic times, and following last month’s GDP negative growth figures, it is increasingly feeling like we are entering choppy waters, including a possible technical recession later this year.

In this context, we should remember that the foundation of our economy for centuries has effectively been brave people taking a punt on designing and starting a new business.


Often, the risk doesn’t pay off – closures of new start companies can be brutally high - but when it does work, new companies eventually flourish, many becoming household names.     

The giant employers of today - such as Rolls-Royce, Boots or Sainsbury’s – were all initiated by an individual or two having a business idea and deciding to have a go, effectively creating their own job and eventually jobs for many thousands of people.

Of course, we now call them entrepreneurs and they are rightly celebrated as such. Without entrepreneurial energy any economy will flatline and eventually fail.

A key indicator of the health of a modern economy is the rate of business start-up, survival and growth and last week I was privileged to chair a Marketing Derby roundtable made up of ten new business Bondholders. 

I say privilege because, as each entrepreneur revealed their very different story, it became obvious that there is no template, that each story is unique and very personal, albeit with commonalities in approach and experience.

Words I’d use to describe their stories included; dreams, aspiration, provenance, serendipity and most importantly, passion.

Three main learning points jumped out for me.

First, this is not an issue of big versus small.

Derby is well known as a big business city, home to some of the world’s largest players in aerospace, rail and automotive. One could argue that traditionally the city was not especially welcoming to new starts and ranked poorly on measures such as new VAT registrations and the like.

This is no longer the case.

One of the entrepreneurs described Derby as ‘a city that embraces business’, providing a warm welcome to sole traders, through micro-businesses and larger SMEs.

This is good to hear as for some time Derby has been trying to diversify its economic base and encourage a mixed ecology in size, sector and shape. The city’s big business provides a platform for confidence in new starts - not only as source of customers and contracts but also spin-outs and skills.


This, plus the fact many of the city’s entrepreneurs themselves originate from big business, leads to this sense of complementarity between the two.

Second learning point was that of the importance of support structures.

No-one it seems can set off and create their own job without some of this being in place, whether via families, professional advisors, agencies or others have been there and got the T-shirt.

Once a business idea leaves the proverbial bedroom a plethora of options need navigating, from location through to overcoming the challenge of managing finance, legal, marketing, personnel and the like.

Any small business very quickly becomes exposed to these and the experience of help offered and received from all quarters – local authorities, business agencies and the university to quote a few – was very welcome.

The third and final learning point for me was that of the unique character of the entrepreneurs themselves. Believe me, these are very special people.

There was no single route and as many back stories as there were businesses. This group was not parochial, they were well travelled, holding global perspectives. Some had degrees, others had left school early. All had hunger and desire.

Those represented were, what I’d call, very Derby – innovators in sectors such as tech and leisure – ranging from a new yoga house to designing flying cars.

Their decision to start a business was a positive, conscious choice. They were exercising control of their lives and, as one person put it, being the ‘best version of ourselves’.

I see this group of entrepreneurs, and countless many like them, as the engine room of our economy.

Creating Vibrant Cities

One of the dangers of being engaged every day in the world of regeneration is that of being sucked into the wormhole of the mechanics of investment and development – land assembly, viability, planning and the like.

There is nothing wrong with any of these per se, all are important issues to be solved if a project is to progress.

However, over the past few weeks I’ve attended two events which have reminded me of the need to reconnect with the bigger picture - the underlying purpose of regeneration if you will – and that is people, place and the interaction between the two.

The challenge is that of moving from customer creating place, to place creating customers, the meaning of which I’ll come back to later in the article.

The first event was the Festival of Place held in the achingly hip Tobacco Dock in East London. This gathering of what might be best described as dedicated urbanists – let’s say more tattoos than suits - delved into the function and form of what is now usually described as ‘place-making’.

The dangers of these conventions is that of falling into masterclasses on ubiquitous regeneration pin-ups – usually New York and London – and, sure enough, there were keynotes on the revival of Times Square and Kings Cross.


I know both these areas very well and can remember their undoubted edginess, bordering on danger, when I first visited them in the 1980s. Today, their transformation is astonishing, and the back story is a good one.

Of course, there are learning points but I really question the relevance and transferability of much of this to cities that are not global metropolises, in fact most cities, certainly the Derbies, Leicesters and Nottinghams of the world.

One day I’d like to go to a conference where the focus is on the experience of thousands of medium-sized cities, where no mention is made of London, New York or Paris.

That said, I find myself leaving a session like that, my mind spinning with nuggets which can be applied when back behind the desk. One important take away quote came from an architect who said ‘how buildings meet the ground is more important than how they meet the sky’.

In other words, rebalance the emphasis currently placed on scale, form and massing with that on impact of the building on the streetscape. Will a new building contribute to vibrancy or will it sterilise the street?

The second event was Marketing Derby’s annual Property Summit which we held at the stunning Roundhouse complex, adjacent to the station.

Here we hosted over 350 delegates, making it the largest property event in the region. Many of our guests were able to catch the 8am out of St Pancras and simply cross the road, straight into the Roundhouse itself, well ahead of our 10am start. 

Our speakers were top notch and brought a broad national and international perspective.

The keynote was given by the CEO of the Association of Town and City Management, Ojay McDonald, who talked about how the disruption that technology was having on the high street was not going away soon. He argued that the challenge in redefining the purpose of town and city centres was not to recreate the past dominated by retail but to make centres safe, welcoming and attractive to future generations.  

Screenshot 2019-07-23 at 14.58.47.png

We were lucky to secure Bart Somers, the dynamic and charismatic Mayor of Mechelen in Belgium, who described the transformation of what he described as a ‘city in despair’ 20 years ago to an award-winning city today.

His strategy was two-pronged, restoration of law and order, together with a ruthless focus on driving inclusivity and equality.

In practice, this meant investment in the public realm by making Mechelen clean, safe and diverse. The schemes were many and often small – bringing water back into the city by opening hidden brooks, introducing trees and grass, reducing car use by bringing in cycle and scooter schemes. In other words, make Mechelen interesting and surprising.

His philosophy was unique and challenges normal paradigms - to treat people as citizens, not communities.

His energy, passion and bravery won Bart the title of World’s Best Mayor and I’ve rarely seen an audience so entranced and motivated by a speaker. There is much we can learn from Bart and Mechelen.

Our final speaker was Yolande Barnes who is Chair of the Bartlett Institute for Real Estate at University College London. Her robust academic perspective perfectly complemented Bart’s applied thoughts and her emphasis on stewardship of the public space rang so true.

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Put together, the speakers threw new light on our central theme – the revitalisation of town and city centres – and the solution to that challenge seems to lie in the need for places to create customers.

Regeneration has to be subservient to place-making and our cities need to become more diverse, with mixed and flexible uses and, to put it simply be a lot less boring and a lot more interesting.

Let’s talk partnership

Let’s talk partnership.

Not the nicey-nicey, process-focused Kumbaya type, but collaboration that makes genuine impact and change.


Marketing Derby is what is called in the business an Investment Promotion Agency (IPA) with a role to promote Derby and Derbyshire in order to attract inward investment.

Every city, region and country has an IPA – I recently received an invite to meet with Invest in Iraq – meaning the world of inward investment is intensely competitive.

Investors can’t go everywhere, but they do like to have options, and, in my experience, their decisions are invariably based on a cocktail of the emotional and rational - perception and reality – plus how they are received and encouraged by a place.

Marketing Derby is itself a collaboration with a unique business model.

Our single largest source of funding is our Bondholders - the 350 companies, large and small, who contribute a fee which drives our activity.

Complementing this is funding from the public sector, including a 12-year relationship with Derby City Council, a new relationship with Derbyshire County Council and the support of D2N2, via ESIF funding.

We recently engaged a company called Conway – world-leading investment consultants based in Atlanta, Georgia – to carry out an independent analysis of our impact. Conway work globally for the likes of Invest in Paris or Invest Toronto meaning they were therefore able to apply their evolved assessment tools to our numbers.

We will be communicating the key conclusions to stakeholders this summer but headlines include the fact that, over the past three years, Marketing Derby has attracted 1,354 jobs and £359m of capital investment, delivering an impact to the city’s GVA of £333m.

Of course, we keep a tag on all our numbers so some of this wasn’t a surprise. What was interesting though was the emphasis Conway made in identifying that key to this success is our business model – that of a trusted, independent, honest broker, sitting between the investor and place, focused on helping to land the investment.

It’s always good to receive third party endorsement which is why we were especially pleased when the Financial Times FDI award was presented to us this year for having the best Digital IPA Strategy in the world, beating both Invest in New York and Hong Kong into second and third place respectively.

Core to our pitch to investors is the strength of the local economy which we promote as being the UK Capital for Innovation.

This is based on a 300-year track record, from being home to the world’s first factory - the UNESCO recognised Derby Silk Mill in 1721 - through to today being the world headquarters of one of the most innovative companies on the planet, Rolls-Royce plc.

Investors like to feel a place is ‘on the up’ which is why items such as last week’s news of Bombardier’s £2.5bn deal to design and build the Cairo monorail system in Derby is so welcome.

Earlier this month we held one of our ubiquitous Marketing Derby Embassy events on the 34th floor of a city of London skyscraper, Broadgate Tower. There, it was interesting to hear investors talk openly about how the rise of the University of Derby in the league tables, now standing at 26th with the Guardian, was a factor in their thinking.

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Some time ago, we created the Invest in Derby Red Carpet, a deceptively simple concept designed to handhold investors through their journey. It starts with our London footprint – where we have an office and Ambassadors’ Club – and continues locally as we strive to ease their investment experience.

No matter how fancy, a red carpet cannot replace a viable business case, but when investors can meet the City Council leadership, one-to-one, at our Embassy in London, it makes a tremendous difference to their experience of place. They begin to feel part of the team.

We are of course focused on bringing investment into Derby and Derbyshire but we are not parochial and so recognise the benefit of regional collaboration.

Marketing Derby helped initiate the incredibly successful Midlands Pavilion at the MIPIM commercial property show, held each March in Cannes. Investors love the fact that we are big enough to see the benefit of working across regions and we have received record enquires at MIPIM as a result.

International platforms will always be one of the main drivers of co-operation and the work we now do in China – Derby being twined with Hefei and Derbyshire with Anhui – is supplemented by midlands-wide collaboration in missions and exhibitions across China.

We believe and practice ‘collaboration with purpose’ and so it’s appropriate to end with a Chinese expression that neatly sums up this approach – ‘many hands make light work’.


Why don’t we relocate Parliament to the Derby Roundhouse?

Roundhouse Main.JPG

Why don’t we relocate Parliament to the Derby Roundhouse?

I know, we love a bit of ambition but really?

I’d like to think there is method in the madness so bear with me while I build my case…

Last month, on Thursday 4 th April 2019 to be exact, the House of Commons was holding a debate on how HMRC might reclaim unpaid taxes when water began to drip, then pour, through the Chamber’s roof, soaking MPs. Pretty quickly it was realised this needed serious attention and so the sitting was suspended for the day.

The symbolism of the leaky roof and consequent abandoned debate was not lost.

Something is rotten in the Palace of Westminster but it’s going to take more than a bucket and lick of paint to fix it.

I don’t just mean the building itself – which on the evidence from my recent visit appears near to collapse – but, there is also a growing sense that our whole parliamentary democratic system is need of fundamental review and overhaul.

Now, this isn’t a column on Brexit (I gave my take on that dream in the winter 2018 edition of Agenda) but the Brexit debacle – its origins, the referendum and subsequent parliamentary sclerosis – has exposed our political processes to a kind of test to destruction, which it is failing.

The rest of the world has been watching us with a mix of, first amusement and more recently concern, as debate after debate ends in deadlock. That logjam may be forgivable - and at some point it will surely be broken - but the daily circus of the Punch and Judy show put on by many MPs, together with tired idiosyncratic conventions, does not reflect a healthy modern 21st century democracy.

In fact, the Speaker - sitting in an oversized chair belching out instructions about the ‘ayes having it’ and ‘unlocking the doors’ - has become something of an international oddity. He is mimicked apparently by schoolchildren across the world, thinking they are watching some new version of Harry Potter.

For many, the leaky roof was a metaphor too far.

The political stability and pragmatism of the UK, so often lauded as an exemplar, is getting lost.

Both the House of Commons and Lords are divided, political parties are divided, as are communities and even families.

Instability and uncertainty has suddenly become the norm as people try to match the apparent normality of their day-to-day with the psycho-drama played out on TV most evenings.

My point being that Brexit has turned out to mean many things, except perhaps Brexit. It has become a de facto proxy for something, anything, else, much of which has sat beneath for years, or even decades, and is only now beginning to surface.


This includes feelings of being left behind by the progress of globalisation. It includes fear of change and fear of the unknown, underpinned by inequalities in wealth and power. These fears are real, many people are genuinely concerned for themselves, their families, friends and communities.

Some say that the cause of the current edgy zeitgeist lies in the 2008 crash, which I’ve always described not so much as an economic heart attack but an economic stroke with random and unpredictable consequences expressed over time.

I suspect the roots are much deeper; 2001 and its subsequent War on Terror, the 1989 ending of the Cold War and its ‘end of history’, even 1945 and the victory of World War 2.

Truth is, we do not have the benefit of the perspective of distance and time furnished to historians in the future but I do know that this period will be closely studied, analysed and argued over for centuries.

The current angst didn’t just happen overnight just as it won’t be solved whenever Brexit is.

Which brings me back to the rotten state of Parliament – the palace as a property, the democratic process and the Derby Roundhouse.

I’ve visited the Palace of Westminster many, many times.

On my first visit, as an 18-year-old student, I was absorbed by its history, gothic grandeur and hushed and heavy corridors whispering the DNA of democracy.

A few weeks ago, on my most recent visit, I was shocked by its sheer shabbiness, the sense of chaos outside and inside as well as the broken tiles covered in gaffer tape - you know, the type generally found in cheap supermarkets not in one of the homes of democracy.

Isn’t it time to address not just the physical renewal of the Palace but also to re-engage our democracy with the people it represents?

Now, there is a plan to renew the whole parliamentary estate and, like all UK grand projects, it has been talked about for ages. Its costs escalate quicker than Lionel Messi’s goal tally – current figure is £4bn, though I’d suspect nearer £10bn when all said and done – but no substantive work has been undertaken as the Place of Westminster is a workplace visited by over 1million people each year.

The plan is to shut the whole building down for the period of work, estimated at 10 years. To start this, both Houses were meant to decant in 2022, though the earliest date being discussed now seems to be 2028.

The terrible fire at the Notre Dame in Paris has acted as an alarm bell for many (the Palace of Westminster has roughly 10 fires start up somewhere on the estate each year) introducing some urgency into the process.

Meantime, in London, they debate about where both Houses might sit during the decant – candidates include the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Richmond House or even a pop-up on Horse Guards.

Now, here is a thought - why don’t we take Parliament on tour, at least for the duration of the works?

If our democracy is broken, if people feel disconnected, if there is a north-south divide, if there is fear of the break-up of the UK, then why not move the legislature out for a decade and engage with the regions?

As things stand, the legislature is moving a mere few yards away at vast expense and the cosy Westminster bubble remains unaffected, many would say disconnected.

Just as the FA moved England’s football games around the country whilst Wembley was rebuilt (the game against Mexico at Pride Park Stadium still holds the attendance record) so could both Houses sit, for periods of six months at a time, in buildings located across the country.

A competition could be held to identify the 40 locations required and, of course, in Derby we could easily offer the Roundhouse or the Derby Arena – both perfect for parliamentary sessions in the round (a structure found in all democracies except our antiquated adversarial face-to- face Chamber as it happens).

I know there are logistical issues; safety, security, capacity etc etc but I simply don’t buy easy SW1 bleating.

Many countries base their political capital away from their biggest cities (Australia, Brazil, Canada and the United States for example) and I see nothing but positive reasons as why the UK should at least flirt with the idea. Is it really such an outrageous thought that we should not even consider it?

If successful, the Upper House could remain on permanent tour with the current location of the House of Lords becoming an income generating tourism attraction.

Yes, the economic benefit of such a move for the regions would be great and in many respects rebalancing the economy should be argument enough.

However, I feel the real benefit of Parliament on Tour may not be best measured in GDP and GVA but rather in a reimagining of politics, with a re-engagement between Parliament and the taxpaying communities, a midwifing if you like of our political system into the 21 st century.

Housing, crisis or business as usual?


Earlier this month, we held one of Marketing Derby’s Big Talks – a small round table of professional experts looking into a single issue in some depth – the session appropriately being held at the impressive Derby YMCA on London Road.

The theme was to ask whether housing was actually in crisis or it is the current situation simply business as usual?

The conversation was lively, heated even, and will be reported on in the next Derby Telegraph Agenda business magazine. The themes emerging though were so all encompassing that I thought it worth covering off briefly here.

A decent secure home is of course is a basic human right, yet the provision of enough homes, in the right places, is one we seem to perennially fall short.

It’s fair to say that housing is also a particularly British obsession, as reflected by the daily extensive media coverage of planning issues, prices and interest rates, not to mention the numerous makeover programmes.

There are many perspectives on most aspects of housing but one clear consensus is that we are not building enough homes to meet today’s demand.

The government target is for 250,000 new homes to be built each year.

Now, ask almost anyone if they think there are enough houses being built and I guess they would normally say yes.


Any drive around Derby is punctuated by new housing estates popping up on the city’s periphery, most especially on the west and south side.

Added to that are the hundreds – soon to be thousands – of new homes in the city centre, first mostly in Permitted Development office conversions and soon in ‘build to buy’ and ‘build to rent’ schemes focused on Castleward, the DRI Nightingale Quarter site and North Riverside.    

That impression – suburban spread and city living - would be reinforced by visits to any city and that’s not to even mention London where the scale of building is nothing short of phenomenal.

Yet, surprisingly, the scale of house building in the UK over the past 3 years is at its lowest volume since the 1920s.

In the 1960s we were building 350,000 units per year – last year we build 184,000.

Remember, the annual target of 250,000 and you soon see how within any given decade, at current build rates, we are falling short of roughly 1 million new homes.   

The impact is pressure on existing stock, reflected in inflated price points, over-occupation, poor quality and eventually, and most brutally, in the homelessness we see on our cities streets.

What was most interesting in the round table was exploring the question as to how and why did we get to this position?   


The finger of blame is usually pointed in various directions: difficulty in obtaining planning off Councils worried about voters’ reactions; the collapse of social housing building precipitated in the Right to Buy; greedy developers controlling stock release; shortages in money to build and buy and even to not having enough bricklayers or even bricks.

Whichever the facts – and there is probably some truth in each – we do seem to have got ourselves into a classic Great British mess, where many of those who their home sorted thank you very much can often resist allowing others onto that ladder.

The solutions lay somewhere in shifting the current practices of government (planning policy and public house-building programmes); industry (new technologies in design and build) and the customer (renting vs buying and changing demographics).

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the answer to our Big Talk question is ‘both and’ – in other words, yes we are in crisis but that the crisis is so ingrained that it is actually business as usual.    

Why Cannes Mission was only the start


“Did you have a good MIPIM”?

That’s the question asked of, and by, many in the departure lounge at Nice airport last week as a tired army of UK property, investment and promotion-related stakeholders waited to return home.

All answered invariably in the affirmative...”yep, best ever”.

Seems you don’t fly down to Cannes for a week and declare it a waste of time.

As I sit writing this, back in Derby, the MIPIM week already seems such a long time ago. However, 2019 will not be easily forgotten as it was bracketed by two dramatic events.

A tailwind of 125mph whisked our team Midlands plane down to the Côte d’Azur on Monday where we were consequently welcomed by the bumpiest of landings (actually so serious that Manchester’s plane aborted landing and ended up in Italy and other flights were simply cancelled).

Any schadenfreude felt on Manchester’s mishap soon disappeared when our return trip on Friday suffered the same fate, as our windy landing back into Birmingham was aborted with only a few hundred feet to go.

Frankly a bit scary, and the second (successful) attempt to land was made in a quiet, compliant and slightly nervous atmosphere, punctured by relieved clapping once back on terra firma.

MIPIM, in French, le marché international des professionnels de l’immobilier - (I know I still don’t get MIPIM out of this, but MIPIM it is) - is the world’s leading real estate and property investment event held annually in Cannes, France.


MIPIM is huge - 26,000 urgent delegates, suited and booted, 3,350 companies exhibiting from 100 countries – but nobody simply rocks up and does the business. It doesn’t work like that and takes a couple of goes to get it.

This year was MIPIM’s 30th edition, Marketing Derby’s 10th and my 19th.

For us, MIPIM fits as a key milestone in our year of promoting city and county, complementing activities such as our London Embassies and the Derby Property Summit (16th July at the Roundhouse for your diary).


Our class of 2019 was our biggest and best yet - a diverse group of talented people mixing experience, sectors and styles – all sharing a genuine passion for the promotion of place.

We went as part of the Midlands UK Pavilion, which itself attracted 5,000 visitors and, in my view, was an appropriate platform from which to promote Derby and Derbyshire at such a large global event.

Cornerstone to our team D2 calendar were the many pre-arranged one-to-ones with investors - conversations to create or cultivate relationships that bring jobs and investment - all supplemented by our events, most especially the packed Marketing Derby Embassy breakfast event which is now a landmark for many in that busy week.

For a country that parades its international status and ambitions, MIPIM can still raise envious comments about ‘jollys in the sun’ from some here in Britain. Some in the media cannot resist snide remarks about the sunshine, the yachts and the champagne. I have no respect for this perspective – if you are not on the pitch you do not get the ball – and, over the years, Marketing Derby has developed the experience to better understand what is reasonable to expect from the event and how to plan to achieve this.

Since returning I have already had two days in London in detailed one-to-ones, following up conversations initiated in Cannes.  


The added extras include the offline conversations that further strengthen the inter-team D2 relationships, the ability to assess the competition from other places and access to thought-leadership sessions that go beyond the world of property – this year’s keynote was the General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon.

A bonus for 2019 was the award we received from the Financial Times Foreign Direct Intelligence magazine for having the best inward investment digital strategy in the world (beating New York and Hong Kong into 2nd and 3rd place).

Yeah, no typo there, Marketing Derby’s digital strategy is the best in the world according to the Financial Times no less!

So, did we have a good MIPIM?

In truth, we didn’t have any stellar announcements to make in 2019 – our projects were either ahead or behind the MIPIM timetable. The real benefit this year, I think, is very much in the intensive meetings we had on specific projects in the hope of progressing delivery.

The proof of the pudding though will be in the outcome of the numerous meetings to follow, seeking to move investment forward, plus our ability to support achievement on the ground over the coming months and to start to think about our pitch for MIPIM 2020!

The great British high street is dead, it's time for a new approach


My recent comments, made to Derby City Council’s Planning Committee, of an existential threat to the future of town and city centres, created something of a brouhaha in parts of the media.

After 10 years of decline and associated retail closures – from Woolworths, through BHS, to House of Fraser – the view can hardly be a surprise.

So, let me be clear.

The post-war model of retail-led city centres – often described as the Great British High Street - is over, finished, kaput.  

Changing customer behaviour, rooted in a combination of the 2008 crash and the shift online, has effectively killed it.

Which means that we are left with a simple choice – allow the decline to run its course and see where we end up, or take action to redefine the purpose and use of city centres.

During the 1960s and 70s, the United States adopted the first approach. People and business moved out of downtown and the decline became so chronic that the centres of even large metropolises – such as Denver, Detroit or Los Angeles – became abandoned, no-go areas.  

Over the past 20 years the United States has seen a concerted attempt to turn this around and ‘rediscover’ downtown. The US is blessed with endless space to grow, but even there, they have figured it unhealthy to allow city centres to die.

I know these cities pretty well and I see renaissance under way in all three.

Denver is thriving, young, urbane and packed with universities and tech companies.

Los Angeles is feeling like a city centre again, driven by city living, though wander into Skid Row and you see there is some way to go.


And Detroit?  Well, Detroit fell a very long way, becoming a pariah city personifying decline and fall. But, even here, there are green shoots, driven by massive university investment and the Ford car company, relocating its HQ into an abandoned downtown rail station.

The lesson is twofold: first, if you allow decline to run its full course, revival will take time and billions of pounds; second, the only way back is to mix it up and encourage new use in spaces that were previously predominantly retail.

Derby is a long way from this nadir but we cannot deny footfall is down. Retail is struggling to keep its head above water and you never know where the next closure will be. Last week, Pattiserie Valerie; next week?

So, what do we do?

Well first, I’m assuming two things, one, acceptance that we have a problem and second, that we want a vibrant city centre.

I certainly do and so does Derby City Council, together with its wider business stakeholders via the Derby Renaissance Board, who have signed off this stated ambition in the city centre masterplan.

The masterplan recognises that most people live in cities, that cities drive economies and their centres are a window to the world.

We judge cities by their centres as when we visit any place we automatically gravitate towards the centre and from there we build our perception.

The masterplan wants to create a vibrant city centre by making it a place to live, work and visit.

Ah, as Shakespeare said, there is the rub – to live, work and visit. We have to do all three.

Take the first of these, city living. Derby is running out of space. Planning applications are increasingly being submitted to extend suburbia – putting pressure on the edge of city and green fields.

Many people would prefer to live centrally and city living is an essential ingredient in reimagining our centre. To achieve this, we need investors willing to build a residential offer very different from the suburban-semi with a garden.

The good news is that we have been successful in attracting these investors and between student, office conversion and new-build, there are almost 5,000 resi- units under way, or in planning, for DE1.

This will bring a population similar to that of Ashbourne or Matlock into the heart of the city. It will mean people coming into town each evening, returning from work, bringing energy, activity and money into struggling local businesses.

Yes, city living is apartment living; yes, they are more likely to have terraces than gardens; and yes, the schemes may be taller than we are used to, but, if we desire a vibrant centre - city living is not a nice-to-have, it’s simply a must-have.

The Planning Committee’s decision to approve – subject to conditions - Derby’s first upscale Build-to-Rent apartment scheme, the Landmark, was a welcome, positive and significant step forward.

To achieve the second ingredient - working in the city centre - Derby has the added challenge that so much of our economic activity is located around the outer ring road - the ‘Derby donut’ as I call it.

The 2005 masterplan had an ambition to create 1million square feet of new office space which, when built, would employ 10,000 people. Sometimes referred to as ‘suits on the street’ this desire was strangled by the 2008 crash.

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However, we cannot lose the ambition of having people work in the city centre.

The City Council’s Connect scheme has successfully provided opportunities for numerous smaller companies – such as Marketing Derby – to come downtown.

I’m delighted that the City Council is tackling market failure head-on by supporting two mid-sized office schemes in the Cathedral Quarter. Between them, Bold Lane and Full Street will bring another 800 workers into town and that can only be welcome. I believe private investors will quickly follow this lead.

Finally, the third ingredient – visiting - still includes retail, which will need to evolve to survive but also leisure – the food and drink scene, arts and culture, performance and festivals. The reopening of the Assembly Rooms and Guildhall Theatre, the new Museum of Making, will all be positive for footfall but we still have to work on improving the customer journey, experience and broader offer.

The city will soon be bidding into a £500m government pot aimed at revitalising city centres. The competition will be tough and to win, team Derby is going to have to create an exciting collaborative vision that delivers a tangible paradigm shift in how we realistically position Derby to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

City needs the ambition to match our top companies

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Last Wednesday, I attended an extraordinary event at the ever-wonderful Morley Hayes hotel.

Ostensibly it was a breakfast - hosted by the Derby Telegraph and Champions (UK) plc – celebrating the Top 200 companies in Derbyshire.

The University of Derby Business School had compiled a league table following what sounded like some serious number crunching revealing an economy worth £14.9 billion.

There was no great surprise to see that Rolls-Royce sat comfortably in the number one slot.

For over 100 years, Rolls-Royce has been synonymous with Derby and today the city hosts the world HQ of the Aerospace, Corporate and Nuclear activities of this £3bn turnover engineering behemoth.

I’ve occasionally heard it commented that we make too much of Rolls-Royce but believe me, when we are promoting the city to inward investors, saying that we are home to one of the world’s greatest business names – up there with the Amazons, Apples and Googles – quickly gets investor attention and respect.


On almost any such conversation, Rolls-Royce opens the batting. There isn’t a city in the UK – and I include London, Birmingham and Manchester – that wouldn’t give their back teeth to host what we have here in Derby.   

Needless to say, Rolls-Royce was joined in the top of the charts by the likes of Bombardier and Toyota and a few other familiar names – Bowmer and Kirkland, East Midlands Trains and Pattonair, for example – but, I was equally fascinated by the inclusion of clearly brilliant companies, that are far from being household names, operating all across the county.

Companies such as Eco-Bat, Eoth, Fannin and Senad are not names that trip off the tongue but they, and many others, are crucial to creating a balanced economic eco-system in Derbyshire.

And I say Derbyshire, as this list covered postcodes from DE1 to DE74 and of course the SK and S40 codes you get in the northwest and northeast of the county respectively.

It was good and right to celebrate, but what made the event extraordinary in my view, were the comments made from the stage by the three keynote speakers, Steve Hall from the Derby Telegraph, the University of Derby’s boss Kath Mitchell and most especially, David Williams.

David’s day job is Chairman of Geldards, a well-respected law firm with operations in Derby, Cardiff, Nottingham and London. That’s a big enough job in itself but David was speaking with some of his other hats – Chairman of the Derby Renaissance Board and the Derby-Nottingham Metro Growth Board, as well as being Deputy Chairman of the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership.

His comments were an impassioned plea – directed at local authorities and in particular to their politicians - to engage and listen to the concerns of business.

The focus of his observation was very much Derby and the need for the city to raise its aspirations and to be open and welcoming for business, views endorsed by Steve and Kath.

The core business reality is competition and to survive and thrive, companies – such as the 200 in the list – need to continue to attract and retain talent. A key component in this is the concept of place – in other words, is the place in which we are located sufficiently attractive to the talent that we need in order to compete?

David’s fear was that, despite the fantastic work undertaken over the past ten years or so in attracting investment, the city was in danger of losing momentum, at the same time as when our competitors were stepping up their game.

His frustrations reflect an emerging wider agitation in the business community, frustrated at what is increasingly looking like an anti-development planning process, as well as the apparent lack of progress on high profile regeneration and development schemes, such as the Friar Gate Goods Yard, Becketwell, DRI and Assembly Rooms – all standing empty for 50, 11, 7 and 5 years respectively.

There may be good news on the first three of these, as business-led investments finally look like emerging in the new year, but the focus is now on the embarrassing debacle that is the Assembly Rooms.

I don’t need to rehearse the story in this column. I’ve written before on how it should never have been closed but, that now it is, we should listen to the experts who tell us that it is not fit for purpose and needs replacing.

A few weeks ago, at the Derby Renaissance Board, business patience finally snapped. Hearing that Derby City Council is about to spend £20m plus on reopening the loss-making Assembly Rooms, as opposed to building a new profit-making performance venue, at twice the size for twice the price, was simply too much.

It was a genuinely passionate debate with a rare consensus that the refurbishment was ‘underwhelming’, would create a ‘village hall’, fit for ‘a market town, not a city’ and fundamentally will not attract the performances required. A delegation from the DRB will soon be meeting the City Leader to express these concerns.      

Which brings me back to the top 200 at the beginning of this piece.

Derby and Derbyshire is a hub for many fantastic businesses but we must not take them for granted and, more than that, we need to do all we can to ensure we shape a place that has the ambition and aspiration to support their enterprise.

Big advantages of making a bold move


Tomorrow night, over 200 people will gather in the prestigious House of Lords terrace pavilion for the 2018 Marketing Derby Embassy.

We have been running these award-winning inward investment events for over 10 years – indeed the Financial Times fDi Magazine described them as the world’s best.

Our business model of being a genuine public-private partnership has enabled Marketing Derby to be innovative in how we promote place. Almost all of our competitors are local authority or LEP-based and so invariably struggle with this style of approach.

From time to time, other investment promotion agencies do hold promotion events in London, however, none have got even near to the intensity and consistency of our Marketing Derby events – 5,000 jobs attracted speaks for itself.

Our Embassies are incredibly well supported – by investors, Bondholders and our London ambassadors - and they tend to be held in premium locations such as Downing Street, Lambeth Palace, Pall Mall, the Ritz and Citibank’s Canary Wharf HQ.

Our company values are to be pro-active, make a difference and think Derby first and the Marketing Derby Embassies are the perfect manifestation of this.

A city like Derby cannot sit back and wait for the proverbial phone to ring, we have to go out and seek the attention of investors and generate enquiries.

We are acutely aware that once we are on the radar we must then continue to sustain the confidence of the investor in Derby. Simple fact is that we are in competition and investors have – and will exercise - choice.

Putting on a team Derby show – civic and business leadership in common cause, singing from the same hymn sheet – is a crucial part of this process.


Last year – across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster - our Embassy at the historic Lambeth Palace was called the Art of Innovation and included representing visuals from some of the city’s and county’s best companies and products.

The fact that we now promote the county of Derbyshire as well as the city of Derby has been welcomed and there is positive synergy between the two that is well understood by investors.

The event at the House of Lords will see this pitch evolve and we are delighted that the Earl of Burlington has agreed to provide keynote comments on the night.

The London Ambassador Orrery Magazine

The London Ambassador Orrery Magazine

On a wider picture, the links between London and Derby have always been strong which is why we launched a new magazine this month – Orrery – aimed at the London market.

Inward investment promotion starts with perception of place and Orrery is targeted at repositioning Derby and Derbyshire differently in the minds of potential investors. The magazine features some of our most innovative people and companies and to date response has been terrific.  

There is no doubt that, as well as being a source of capital investment, London might also become a platform for company relocations and growth.

In the past, this has been focused on the relocation of government departments – from which Derby never benefited – but it is now becoming a bigger issue amongst business.

The catalyst is the incredible rising cost of doing business in London.

Sky high rents and rates, exorbitant staff wages and turnover, housing costs, travel costs and congestion all add up to something like an additional £20,000 - per employee per year - for basing a person or post in London.

Now, we would all accept there are certain roles that must be based in the capital but many businesses – and their employees – are starting to question the cost against the benefit.

Put simply, a company would save £10million per year by just moving 500 posts out of the capital. These days, in terms of office leases, most businesses would location plan for a stable 10 to 20 years at which point the figures for basing those posts in London get astronomical.

What business can argue against a saving of £100m to £200m over that period, just by shifting 500 posts out of the hot house that is London?

This isn’t just theory, there is a trend emerging. Manchester attracted the BBC and Bank of New York; Birmingham has Deutsche Bank and HS2 and Leeds has Burberry.

The push is bottom up as well as top down with many people considering moving out of the capital to improve their quality of life or even simply buy a home.

One of the features we included in Orrery is a cheeky reminder of what quality of housing you get, pound for pound, in Derbyshire compared to London. The average house price in London is £424,610 – that gets you a two bed flat above an East London shop or a detached house in Duffield.

The recent Marketing Derby board annual ‘away day’ was held at our office in London and we looked at whether to resource strategies in 2019 to put Derby on the map for companies considering relocation to the regions.

Our strengths include central location, transport access, quality workforce and living costs, but our weaknesses are anchored around poor quality office availability and a sclerotic planning experience holding back development.   

We are working on tackling both of these – Derby City Council is looking to bring forward new city centre office developments to deal with market failure, something we are very supportive of. Complementing that we are working with the city to modernise planning and so deliver a smoother landing for investors.


The case for relocation to the regions is getting stronger. What we must now do is ensure that Derby is viable and credible option.

Reimagining City Centres

Recent news that profits at the John Lewis Partnership – the doyen of the English middle class – have fallen by 99% should have come as a total shock. However, it barely caused a ripple.

More locally, last week’s sad announcement that iconic music store, Foulds, was to leave Iron Gate after over 100 years, again barely registered.

It seems that, after ten years of continual household name closures, right up to the collapse of House of Fraser last month, we have become immune to bad news from the High Street. 

The simple truth is that the post-war era of retail-led town and city centres is now well and truly over.

Every place – small, medium or large - is going to have to define and deliver a new future for its central area if it is not to become forgotten and virtually abandoned, as were many US downtowns from the 1970s.

The reason behind the decline is generally accepted as being a fundamental and structural change in customer behaviour, initiated by the Great Crash of 2008 and deepened by the exponential growth of online sales, plus the relentless charge of business rates.

Put it this way, every time you (and I) make a purchase online, especially to global giants hiding their income from tax regimes, we are piercing another hole in the heart of our High Street. 

One could argue that today the true British High Street can be seen not in our town and city centres but in the mega-sheds that line our motorway system.

When we press ‘click’ it is here that the purchase is effectively made and our deal is often cheaper as the company will not have to pay the business rates – or in many cases the corporation taxes – faced by the regular store on our High Street.

Central Derby has about 1,000 shops and pre-2008 vacancy rates were generally 5% or less - in other words, a healthy regular churn.

After the crash, increasing numbers of shops closed – most of these national brands from Woolworths to the more recent BHS but also many smaller independents – and vacancy rates grew to as high as 30%+ in many towns.

In Derby, vacancies appear to have stabilised at about 15% - we are by no means the worst city but stand somewhere in the middle.

However, the vacancy rate hides a picture of changing uses – there are fewer traditional retail stores and many more betting shops, pawn exchanges, as well as food and drink establishments.

As a city we simply cannot wish this retail climate change away and all indications are that things are going to get worse, not better.

Expect more shop closures and, if we hit an economic dip, I fear a repeat of some of the vacancy rates last seen after 2008.

Knowing this, our only option is to redefine the purpose of our city centre and then implement strategies that accelerate its delivery.

There is a consensus among commentators that city centres have to become places to live, work and visit if they are to survive, never mind thrive and, in Derby’s case, we have a serious challenge if we are to achieve a balance of these three.

In terms of a place to work, Derby has always struggled as so much economic activity lies outside of the centre. The construction of the 1,000,000 sq ft of new offices – which would have brought 10,000 workers into the city centre every day – never happened.

Derby City Council has dealt with this market failure through its successful Connect scheme providing about 50,000 sq ft of space aimed at smaller companies and will soon deliver a further 30,000 sq ft of quality office space with developer Jensco aimed at medium-sized companies. We have to hope this gives confidence to the market and appetite for more.

As a place to visit, Derby has been stepping up its game in terms of retail – we have risen from 63rd to 24th in national tables over the past 10 years – and our reputation for quality festivals grows.   

To be a place where people live, you have to have housing.

Traditionally, Derby has pushed its population into the suburbs and beyond. We are not alone in doing this but most cities have recognised the need and benefit of having people come into town in the evenings to live.

Derby is in danger of being left behind if we do not accelerate our city living options.

A few years back, the city set off on a strategy to encourage city living and early signs have been good. The start of housing in Castleward, the conversion of empty offices into apartments and the construction of new student accommodation are all starting to take effect.

A successful city centre has to cater for all demographics and to achieve this the next important step in Derby is to see upscale city living. This will predominantly be in new apartments aimed at the many professionals required by our hi-tech employment base.

It has sometimes been a tough sell, but investors have finally shown an interest in Derby and there are now such schemes navigating their way through the planning process.

In Derby, this is not simple, as a small minority oppose city centre developments - on the basis of perceived impact on conservation areas - resulting in schemes being slowed down or even being denied planning permission.

The most significant new proposal is Godwin Development’s 200 unit, 17 storey, Landmark - a top quality Build to Rent apartment scheme on North Riverside, adjacent to the Inner Ring Road which goes to the Planning Committee in October.

Public reaction at the consultation was positive and Marketing Derby, together with many of the city’s leading businesses, are keen to see this approved and built.

The Planning Committee showed a welcome real world understanding last month when it overturned an officer recommendation and awarded permission for the Belgian Frites 33 store to open on St Peter’s Street. 

They recognised that the era of protected retail frontage is over and the exercising of flexibility in use classes is required.

The Landmark is a game changer for the perception of Derby city centre as a place to live and investors, employers and employees will be watching its progress with interest.

Derby's story is one of progression


Ten years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the ensuing global financial crisis - the most catastrophic economic event since the Great Depression of the 1920s – continues to resonate.  

Gordon Brown’s oft-repeated claim that there would be ‘no more boom and bust’ proved wide of the mark.

Sadly, there seems to be an inevitability hardwired in the up/down cycles of human endeavour, where emotion-based decisions trample over the rational.

As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘expect the unexpected’ and in the autumn of 2008 this certainly was the case.

So, if we cannot prevent boom and bust, our challenge must surely be to try and even out its extremes.

In other words, it’s only a matter of time before we face the next economic dip - or recession – the only question is its length and depth.

Often described as an economic heart attack, I feel a more suitable medical metaphor for what happened in 2008 to be that of a stroke.

It’s as if the world’s nervous system came under continual and enduring stress, subsequently externalised by events clearly rooted in that stroke.

Examples include populism, protectionism and the general sense of geopolitical agitation in which we live today.

Looking back, maybe the portents were there.

Could the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of its associated communist political system really be as benign as hoped for by Francis Fukuyama in his influential book The End of History?

Could reaction to the terrible events of 9/11 be contained within the military backlash of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Far from stabilising, old world ideological certainties morphed and mutated into new-isms – as if a virus - random, unpredictable and sometimes shocking.

And so, it is within this context that we try to regenerate our city of Derby, knowing that there is a clock ticking towards a downturn, trying our best to attract and land investment before the next dip.

A case of fixing the roof while the sun shines.

As I write, I’m looking at an interesting juxtaposition of two features in the Derby Telegraph.

One is a fascinating piece on the opening of the Queen Street swimming pool in 1932.

The other contains visions created earlier this year for key city centre sites – such as the Assembly Rooms and Market Hall – by architecture students at the University of Derby.


The relevance of these events, in 1932 and 2018, is not lost as today proposals for a new swimming pool and performance venue are again under consideration.

In 1932, the Queen Street baths were described as ‘refreshing’ and the project included innovations such as a movable floor, thus creating an entertainment space for 1,500 people. I remember seeing the Jam and the Clash on these massive wobbly wooden boards in the 1970s (and indeed would have seen the Sex Pistols had they not been banned).  

The students’ concepts in 2018 are described as ‘futuristic’ and breathe with the energy, verve and optimism of youth.

The 1932 piece reinforces for me the simple fact that cities are always in transition – Derby, with its new pool, was then, as it is today.

However, some things don’t change.

There is a predictable inevitability in the fact that in 1932 the Queen Street pool attracted criticism, as did the Council for funding it.

Similarly, every concept proposed today, whether by the students or professionals, has detractors urgently objecting, demanding that nothing changes.

We can sometimes be seemingly drawn to an imagined past.

Derby’s story though is one of progression.  

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During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries the city carved its future in the white heat of technology and change – large factories, massive mills, numerous railways, cutting-edge aerospace and nuclear research – all driving the city forward, as brilliantly illustrated in the recent Art of Industry exhibition at the Derby Museum.

The architectural daring embodied by James Gibbs in his Cathedral, in Andrew Handyside’s Friar Gate railway bridge or Stephenson’s Roundhouse, is today reflected in Feilden, Clegg and Bradley’s Quad, Carey Jones’s Friar Gate Square or the Landmark by Nichol Thomas.

For hundreds of years Derby has been driven by hope not fear, a city seeking to move forward not back. In the long run, efforts to turn off the tap of progress fail.

Heritage is important and must be nurtured but its protection is best achieved through the economic and social progress of place. When a city stops developing, that city dies and its heritage is left to rot.


New developments can challenge but they are to be considered within a legal framework. Planning applications are not to be seen as a fashion competition and views on design, setting and impact, are invariably subjective.

For example, the recent attempts to describe the non-descript Fire Place Company building at Wyvern as being ‘a well loved city landmark’ are misguided and wrong.

Such sentiment fails to understand the essential soul of our city.

The silent majority desire progression and change. Derbeians are ambitious for themselves, their families and friends, just as they are ambitious for their city.

Truth is, Derby’s success is based on embracing innovation not ossification.

There, in my view, lies the Derby way.

Resilience is the word

One of my long-held beliefs is that cities cannot stand still - invariably they are always on the up or in some type of decline.

I also believe that cities can shape their own future.

Yes, the reality of the market forces will provide economic boosts or busts, but history is littered with places that have proactively managed their growth or revival.

The simple fact is that no city has a God-given right to flourish and any city’s resilience will be tested by occasional shocks, which by definition are hard to predict.

The past two weeks I’ve been in the United States and so have been hearing news from Derby with the benefit of distance.

The announcement by Rolls-Royce of a significant workforce reduction and the loss of the Piccadilly line contract by Bombardier amount to at least a warning of sorts.

For the past 10 years, since Westfield chose Derby as the location for its first European investment, the city has been on an upward trajectory. At Marketing Derby we track the major investments into the city and these now exceed £4 billion over that decade.

As a retail centre we have leapt from 64 th in 24 th nationwide, our GVA growth - tied in with that of Oxford and Cambridge – is in the top three and our salaries continue to be among the best outside of London.

None of this is under direct threat because of those announcements.

However, it is a wake-up call that will test our resolve as a city and we must ensure we navigate our way through with calmness and determination.

It’s important to remember that Rolls-Royce continue to HQ their business in the city and is spending hundreds of millions on its new campus. Take a drive down to Sinfin to get a sense of its scale.

Bombardier has had a great run of wins since the Thameslink debacle and are in the final selection for the multi-billion HS2 contract.

We should be confident – as opposed to being complacent – about the economic fundamentals underpinning our economy.

At the same time, we cannot pretend this is a time for business as usual.

If you add the uncertainty caused by Brexit, plus the danger of international trade wars, then the challenges facing Derby are very real.

One thing that gives me some comfort is that we have a strong public-private partnership, based on experience and trust, that shares a common vision and commitment to the city’s future.

One thing the government encouraged as a result of the news from Rolls-Royce was the establishment of a Task Force. In many places, there would now be a search for its membership and new relationships would need to be created.

In Derby these already exist.

The Derby Renaissance Board brings this leadership together and indeed the Task Group chair – Peter Richardson from the D2N2 LEP – is himself a past Chair of the DRB. Let’s just say that the introductions at the first meeting of the Task Group wouldn’t have taken much time.

By coincidence at the most recent DRB meeting, held earlier this month, we had a discussion on possible asks of Government for the coming budget round - settling on continued investment into the city centre, acceleration of tech-developments on Infinity Park Derby and improving transport infrastructure and connectivity within the city itself.

This work should prove useful in the choppy waters ahead and government likes nothing more than a team able and ready to deliver a vision for growth.

I see this as a time for resilience and whilst in America I visited some cities that have successfully dealt with situations far more structural and threatening than that faced in Derby.

I was especially impressed with Cleveland Ohio, which has emerged from a destiny as a rust bucket capital to being a clean, safe, attractive hub of energy and activity.

For me, Cleveland presents a true master-class in downtown regeneration.

A catalyst was a sustained community-based campaign in the 1980s of 100,000 signatures supporting the case for the city to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a campaign they won and today that visitor attraction is a magnet drawing people into the city.

I appreciate there are some people for whom the glass is always half empty and who seem to feed off any bad news.

However, most people want a city to thrive and although they might not always vocalise it, they welcome good news and support positive change.

You will be pleased to hear that we have already started our exercise in resilience. Yesterday ‘Team Derby’ presented our case to MPs in Parliament and a Marketing Derby Embassy made the case to investors in London.

And, who was there on the platform promoting Derby as a place to invest – in addition of course to Chris Poulter the new Leader of the City Council and David Williams Chair of the DRB – none other than Rolls-Royce, seeking to calm any investors’ nerves on the bigger, long-term future of both company and city.

The message is clear – as a community we are determined to shape the future of our city, whatever challenges are thrown our way, and we are already on the front foot in doing so.

Why we need to build bridges not walls

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It’s often said that the only man-made structure that can be seen from outer space is the Great Wall of China.

Built by the Ming Dynasty, its primary purpose was defence - protecting the country from invasion - though over time, the 4,000-mile structure has also acted as a customs border and trading post.

The Great Wall is now one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and today’s Chinese Grand Project is very different.

Called the One Belt-One Road initiative, as conceived by President Xi Jinping, its stated purpose is to globalise, to reach out and grow trade and investment links - essentially creating a 21st century version of the Silk Road.

Great Wall of China

Its budget is $900bn; an investment much more than a road then. Projects include rail links, seaports, airports and even broadband - and so, in many respects, the purpose of Belt and Road is the exact opposite of that of the Great Wall.

To build walls or construct bridges?

This is surely one of societies most fundamental questions, as true for communities and companies, as much as it is for cities and countries.

From Jericho or York, to Berlin or Jerusalem, the construction of walls has played an existential role in city narrative. The same can be said for countries (think of Hadrian’s Wall or the Iron Curtain).

However, walls – and bridges – go well beyond the physical. They can be the abstract, virtual, policy-based expressions of a political and economic perspective.     

Yes, Donald Trump wants to build an actual wall between the United States and Mexico but he is also seeking to introduce new trade barriers, for example with China. This forms an essential part of his Make America Great Again agenda.

Northern Ireland / Ireland border

Closer to home, the desire to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom is stressing out the Brexit negotiations to a point of near ossification.

In fact, the vote to leave the European Union is about to throw the UK into the maelstrom of geo-politics and economics.

Having put up a wall of sorts, we will quickly need to get on and build bridges.

As we leave one club, we will have to seek bi-lateral alliances with individual countries - most of whom have their own existing and evolving alliances - all set in the context of economies and governments that can change overnight.

This is why trade deals are so tough and why they take so much time.

Countries likely to be top of the UK list for a deal - such as Australia, Canada, India and the United States – all have their own separate trade policy objectives.

Most especially, this will be to seek open access into the UK for their products, whilst best protecting their own domestic markets from ours - in truth, a consideration at the heart of any deal for both parties.

This certainly includes lamb or butter from New Zealand, chlorinated chicken and other food products from the US and free movement of people from India.

The UK has little experience in trade negotiations, which is why the Department for International Trade has had to bulk up its team by making an astonishing 800 new staff appointments.   

The other consideration of course is this, what exactly is it that we intend to sell into new markets - facilitated as part of new trade deals - that we cannot sell to that same market today?

To date, there has been very little discussion – in fact no discussion - on this.

Today, almost half of our £519bn of exports go to only 5 countries – the US, Germany, France, Netherlands and Ireland – so, one assumes that protecting these markets is the number one priority for the new DIT trade team.

However, I struggle to believe that 800 civil servants are focused solely on the EU and US, so we must be looking to grow new markets, to at least balance any loss in EU trade, as well as fuelling future growth.

The simple fact is this. If we do have the products these markets desire, then growing exports to them is going to be a long, hard slog.

Taj Mahal in India

For example, in terms of the oft-quoted ‘new’ emerging markets, the UK could double its exports to India (currently standing at £5.7bn per annum) and yet India (population 1,340m) would still be a smaller market for us than Belgium (population 11m).

It’s not that we shouldn’t try, but we have to realise there are no quick wins.

Essentially, in order to achieve such growth we have to have the companies chomping at the bit, with desired products in place and a commitment to go out and sell into these markets, beating any competition from elsewhere.

In this context, it is disturbing to hear that the UK government plans a 10% reduction in overseas trade promotion posts.

Midlands Engine

Germany exports five times more to China than we do and, guess what, their export promotion activity is better resourced than ours, even before that 10% cut is implemented.

One of the bridges we are building is greater collaboration across the Midlands. This region is a UK star when it comes to exports and we host some of the UK’s greatest export success stories.

There are many armchair generals who appear on TV at night declaring we should just ‘get on with it’, whatever it is.

Our relationship with the world is about to be reset and success will only be achieved by reaching out, building not walls but bridges - based on values of humility and mutual respect – backed up with hungry companies, excellent products and a cracking sales force.      

Neither Cannes or Hollywood hold a candle to what we have done in Derby

Derby’s Walk of Fame – on Albion Street - is really something special.

Like many of you, I’ve been to Cannes and Hollywood and, in my humble unbiased view, neither hold a candle to what we have done in Derby. Let me tell you why.

Yes, being French, the Path of Stars laid out in Cannes has an elegant élan - handprints and signatures impressed in clay, located around the Palais des Festivals– but aside from looking at them, there is no opportunity for further information nor interaction. 

Meanwhile, in surprisingly seedy Hollywood, the influence of characters such as Harvey Weinstein and, of course, the god that is cash – stars actually pay a $30,000 ‘fee’ for the pleasure of recognition – cheapens the experience of seeing almost 900 stars (honestly, there are that many) but no place for the likes of Robert de Niro, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie or Spike Lee. Odd that.

The catalyst here in Derby was the success of City of Derby club swimmer, Adam Peaty, who started bagging gold medals all over the world. This begged a question - how do we celebrate our heroes?

We decided to do things differently and sought nominations from the wider Derby public, to then employ local artisans and materials in creating the physical stars and, finally, introduce a hi-tech innovation, enabling people to engage with each star’s back story and more via an augmented reality app.

From this, came the name of our walk – Made in Derby.

To garner nominations, the Derby Telegraph ran a number of stories and 400 names were submitted. A small stakeholder panel then selected 10 individuals to be represented in phase one, which we agreed to locate on Albion Street in the city’s current regeneration priority area, the St Peters Quarter.

These 10 people manifest an astonishing reflection of 500 years of bravery and brilliance connected with the city.

Bess of Hardwick is the most historic name on the walk, dating back to the 16th century. 

Imagine building a visitor attraction today, which is even more popular at the end of the 25th century? Well, that’s essentially what Bess did. If you have ever visited Chatsworth or Hardwick Hall you have witnessed her historic fingerprint.  

From a poor background, Bess married four times and had eight children, she knew the likes of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles Stuart – but Bess may be one of our greatest business people. Go see her tomb at Derby Cathedral.

I don’t need to wax lyrical in this column about Brian Clough, Peter Taylor, John Hurt, Charles Rolls, Henry Royce or Joseph Wright, all of whom feature on the walk but what do you know about Alice Wheeldon?

Alice is an interesting character - like Bess, a woman ahead of her time – who was a suffragist and fervent anti-war campaigner. Alice lived in the city’s ever-edgy Normanton neighbourhood and kept a safe house there for conscientious objectors.  

Her notoriety is rooted in the fact that she was subjected to a Le Carré-style secret service spook entrapment and subsequently found guilty at the Old Bailey of plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister, Lloyd George. 

Another name you might not know is that of Louis Martin, hailed as Britain’s greatest weightlifter. Louis was part of the Windrush generation – another citizen of Normanton – who loved Derby and went on to conquer the world, winning gold medals and championships. 

A genuine local hero, at his peak, Louis was represented at Madame Tussaud’s, awarded an MBE, and set up a series of gyms across the city. Again, ahead of his time, his mixed marriage to a local girl in 1964 – 50 years before Harry met Meghan - featured in the Sunday Times magazine.

Last, but by no means least, is Lord Noel Baker, a man I was lucky to meet just before his death. 

This guy was a rare polymath – Derby MP for 34 years, a medal-winning Olympian who brought the Olympic Games to London in 1948, one of the creators of the United Nations - oh, and did I say, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize?

In my student days, he treated me to lunch at the House of Lords (long story) where he talked nonchalantly of his meetings with the likes of Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. 

Rather embarrassingly, I told him I thought he was a school (these of course were pre-Google days) but he forgave me and we quickly found common ground when I noticed he was proudly wearing a DCFC tie and told him where I was from.

Ten very different stories of ten very different characters. 

But, what binds them together is a fearless ambition to challenge the conventions of their time, seeking to change their city and the wider world for the better, contributing to their community, which is why they will be remembered for many more centuries to come.

More people acknowledging city's positive future

John Forkin, MD at Marketing Derby

The news last week that Derby is now ranked in the top three UK city economies for GVA growth came as no surprise to me.

Marketing Derby’s core pitch to inward investors is based on the strength of our economy. For years, our team has been tracking these tables and - whilst I always say there is no single bullet that makes or breaks a place - in truth, Derby is always there or thereabouts, sitting right near the top.

This time we were second out of 45 cities – located between Cambridge and Oxford, not bad company. Derby is the only Midlands city in the top ten and, for those interested, Liverpool, Swansea and Belfast held up the bottom.

Investors love this stuff and are often pleasantly surprised to hear that Derby occupies such lofty heights. It’s a great platform on which to base our conversations and is a key factor underpinning our investment successes. Remember, Derby has attracted £4billion of investment over the past decade.

Oddly though, some locals are often surprised too.

By now, I would expect that those who live and work in the Derby area to be pretty much aware that we host massive, wealth-creating companies - such as Bombardier, Rolls-Royce and Toyota - as well as a thriving SME tech sector.  

It may be simply that the perception of what these companies do is outdated, or that some haven’t stopped to think to make the connection between this and economic growth.

Having said that, I am definitely sensing increasing numbers of Derbeians are becoming open to good news and consequently receptive to future city development.  

Derby sits between Oxford and Cambridge in UK city economies for GVA growth

Actually, maybe more than receptive, many are positively hungry for accelerated change as we move towards shaping a city fit for the 21st century.

There is genuine growing pride in the city and the minority who choose to sit on the sidelines and chunter are becoming isolated.

I’ve come to accept that some people seem simply immune to good news - Derby 2nd best city economy, Derby rises from 64th to 24th in national retail table, the University of Derby achieving Gold status for teaching, Derbeians winning Gold at the Commonwealth Games - bah-humbug to the lot!

Every week, in my day-to-day role, I’m lucky to meet hundreds of people and I find that the vast majority are living or working in Derby out of positive conscious choice.

Last week at the Quad we welcomed a new investor into town – the Woodhead Group – and I was really struck by the passionate attitude of their team to be based in the city, some of whom were Derbeians coming home.

Of course, Derby has a long and proud track record of welcoming new and growing companies – just think Rolls-Royce 100 years ago or Toyota 25 years ago – providing them with a home for sustained success.

Art piece on display at Derby Museum's Art of Industry exhibition

We have been a home for industry for over 300 years and in this respect I urge all readers to visit an exhibition currently showing at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Called the Art of Industry, it shows how artists have captured the evolution of the industrial revolution which started right here in Derby at the Silk Mill.

Yes, there is the art of Joseph Wright, L.S. Lowry and Graham Sutherland – Wright’s sublime Iron Forge, on loan from the Tate and back in Derby for the first time since 1772, is worth the trip alone – but what intrigued me is the effect of industry on place.

One of the rooms is dedicated to a myriad of views of Derby as industry shaped the skyline of a fast-growing city, juxtaposing the religious and industrious. For a city to thrive it needs to breathe and grow, the alternative being ossification and decline and the Victorians understood this innately, sometimes with controversial impact.

Trade and investment is a theme which is increasingly going to form part of the national discourse as we move towards and beyond Brexit.

Recent announcements of investment into the iHub on Infinity Park Derby by Airbus and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are evidence that Derby is on its game. Anyone in doubt should take a drive around the emerging Rolls-Royce aerospace campus or the growing nuclear facility on Raynesway.

I stress to anyone who will listen that Derby is on a journey – surely cities always are – yes, there are challenges that need addressing but what gives me confidence is that our ambitions are firmly rooted in a robust local economy with global reach.

Don’t believe me, just look at the tables.

Tangled up in Blue

Cannes: 15th March 2018

Something feels very different at MIPIM this year.

It's not just that the Côte d'Azur sunshine has been swept away today by heavy rain. The MIPIM boys in blue suits have discarded their designer sun glasses and scuttled into the infamous bunker.

Outside on the street, hawkers are trading umbrellas at €20 a shot. However, the only business are the MIPIM refuseniks - usually wealthy folk who are unwilling to pay the MIPIM entrance fee - and they are unlikely to part with cash for mere rain protection.

No, what feels different is Derby and, more specifically, how Derby is perceived.

Marketing Derby has been 'doing' MIPIM for 10 years and, to be honest, in the early days we felt like hickey interlopers.

MIPIM is a market where cities and regions parade their wares to the 25,000 delegates seeking opportunity.

Back in the day, a city like Derby - population 250,000 - struggled to get attention amongst the glitz and glamour.

But, we felt we had a case, a cause if you will, so we stuck to our task and came back, year after year, with a little more experience, nous and confidence.

This year, I feel we have passed MIPIM tipping-point.

We now rock up with a great team and a clever plan. The 25,000 no longer intimidate. We know how to play MIPIM, where to focus and then basically ignore the rest of what can sometimes be a circus.

We collaborate with our Midlands colleagues in an impressive pavilion, providing a platform and easy intro space for investors. Its design is professional, you might say almost cool, but the energy and buzz is tangible and never seems to fade. Derby has been central to making this happen.

Outside the pavilion, the Derby Embassy, now in its 10th year, has become a landmark event - completely oversubscribed to near breaking point - where we share our narrative and opportunities.

The star turn this week was Rolls-Royce outlining the scale and hi-tech nature of their massive Derby operation. The audience lapped it up. There is no better sales pitch for a city than to have a global company fly out a senior member to endorse the product.

Finally, Marketing Derby took the stage at a Financial Times gathering of 80 of Europe's top inward investment agencies.

We were the only agency asked to do so. Why? Because we are seen as being one of the most innovative in how we use data and intelligence to attract investors.

And that is basically the difference I started with in this blog. We no longer feel like accidental guests, gratefully taking morsels from the table.

We are now trusted and respected partners with a reputation for being open, honest and businesslike - and guess what, investors are liking that...

Learn more about Derby at MIPIM

A City on a River

A river can be a city’s greatest asset, it can help define a place.

Indeed, most cities located on a river are there as it provided access and energy.

Derby fits this description perfectly.

Located on a low crossing point of the Derwent which itself became a source of power for the Silk Mill and the wider industrial revolution.

The river Derwent made Derby but, like many cities, Derby turned its back on the river.

Over the past hundred years or so, our City fathers littered the riverside with a parade of functional buildings – a power station, two courts, police station, bus station and municipal headquarters.

I have no idea as to whether their strategy was to cut the river off from the people but that has been the result. Frankly, it angers me that a perfectly good Morledge Market – of which I just about have a distant memory - was replaced by an unsightly Crown Court. 

Today, we inherit an unholy mishmash and Derby’s riverside really should be our crowing glory and not an area many wish to avoid.

This situation is not unique to Derby – many other cities can tell a similar tale – but my fear is that, whilst over the past ten years the city centre has seen significant investment and improvement, this has not yet spread to the riverside.

Next time you are in town stand on Derwent Bridge and take a look south at what should be our city’s crown jewel. The river widens, providing a stunning broad vista and potential almost unique in such a central city location.

When people visit Derby, the riverside should be on the top of their to-do list. Our tourist pitch could be ‘come and experience one of the most beautiful city centre riversides in the country’.

Sadly, we are a very long way from that; a dead zone where it is not even possible to buy an ice cream in the summer.

So, what is to be done?

My take is this. We have become used to parceling up the regeneration of the city centre into neighbourhoods and this seems to work.

The intu Derby centre attracts 23million people each year. The Cathedral Quarter has won recognition as Britain’s Best High Street. The next investment wave will be focused on the heart of the city – St Peters Quarter – including the new Performance Venue and Becket Well.

I think it’s time to start thinking now about a new Quarter – Riverside - in particular, the stretch that runs from the Silk Mill to the Bass Recreation Ground.

North of this is the Derwent Valley World Heritage Corridor and south is Pride Park. The section I’m talking about is located right in the city centre, a short hop from the Market Place.

Other cities have managed to turn their river from a negative to positive force.

I once visited San Antonio in Texas where a dangerous and dirty river has been transformed into its tourist hub, with more visitors than the Alamo.

Currently Dundee is turning its waterfront into an attractive destination, having secured the V&A as its anchor.

Nearer to home, Leicester has been using CPO powers to bring forward its ambitious £80m Waterside project.

Derby can do this but we need to focus our attention and efforts, without which it simply won’t happen.

There is some hope, to be found in a strategy called Our City - Our River (OCOR).

There is a possibility – a 1 in a 100 annual chance apparently – that the river Derwent could flood parts of central Derby. Were this to happen, the consequences would be pretty dire and our economy, possibly even lives, would be threatened.

OCOR is meant to put in alleviation measures to prevent this. Its cost is a chunky £95m. The OCOR vision - to create a river corridor for recreation and development – is easy to support.

Its delivery though seems painfully slow. It’s now seven years since the strategy was launched and the only work so far has been on the stretch between Darley Abbey and Silk Mill.

I took a walk there last weekend and - whilst reluctant to comment on a work still in progress - I have to say it seems a pretty brutal mix of walls and sterile areas that appear to push the city back from the river. The scheme appears to disconnect city and river.

If the second phase, which will run from the Silk Mill to the Bass’s Rec, is anything like the first – in pace or design - then I fear the consequences.

To date, OCOR has not had the profile and associated examination that it clearly requires before it impacts the city centre.  

Yes, we must prevent flooding, but this must be done in a way that helps the city embrace the river to become the key asset it surely should be.

Done right, this has the potential to unite Derbeians behind a project that genuinely connects our city with our river.

When it comes to selling your city, competition is tough

Each year the World Economic Forum is held in the small Swiss city of Davos, attracting vast amounts of media attention. 

Journalists simply can’t stay away from the chic, swish, ski resort. 

I don’t know but maybe it was the theme - “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” – that was too compelling for them?

Anyway, last week, Donald Trump’s surprise visit to Davos inevitably hogged the global focus. 

It was however the comments of another new President, made in Davos just before team Trump rolled in, that caught my attention and that was Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new President of Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa recently took the reins of that troubled country and his message to any well-healed masters of the universe prepared to listen was straight and simple - Zimbabwe is ‘open for business’, in other words, please come and invest in my country.

I’m unaware of the structure of Zimbabwe’s institutions but, by pitching the country as welcoming future inward investment, the President was essentially carrying out the function of an IPA, that is an Investment Promotion Agency.

Marketing Derby is an IPA as I mentioned at our Annual Business Event at the Derby Theatre earlier this month. Talking to people afterwards many were surprised to hear that most cities, regions and indeed countries, have some type of initiative selling its advantages to investors. 

At the ABE I mentioned Invest in Lapland (yes, there is really such an organisation) who campaign that ‘All Signs Point to the Artic’. Plus, Invest in Hong Kong, this year’s winner of IPA of the Year (a moniker awarded by the respected Financial Times FDI magazine), whose slogan is ‘The Best Is Yet to Come’.

Truth is capital is global, mobile and competition between locations is tough and getting tougher.

When it comes to inward investment Derby has a pretty good track record. 
Just over 100 years ago, following a some clever pitching on land and power supply, Rolls-Royce chose the city as its base, a decision that shapes our economy to this this day. Take a look at the massive investment programmes under way in their civil aerospace and nuclear facilities as evidence.

25 years ago, following a thorough and tough competitive process, Toyota chose Burnaston as its home – at that time the UK’s largest ever, foreign direct investment.

Of course, it is important to remember that, just like trade, investment is a two-way process – inward and outward. 

Take a look at international investor magazines today and you will see European cities, such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt, actively pitching their case as the perfect location for any post-Brexit relocations from London.

Which brings me neatly on to what must be the mother of all investment opportunities currently playing out in north America.

Last year online retail giant, Amazon, launched a competition. They asked cities to throw their hat into the ring if they wished to host Amazon’s second home, having outgrown their first HQ in Seattle. 

The opportunity is called HQ2 and I’ve never known an enquiry of this scale. 

The prize is gargantuan - 8,000,000 sq feet of office space, $5billion of development and, wait for it,  50,000 new jobs.

You can only imagine the reaction in cities up and down the US and Canada. 

No doubt each IPA would have made a high level assessment of how their location measured up against the terms of the competition – metrics such as population, talent and universities – before deciding whether or not to throw their hat in the ring.

In the end, an astonishing 238 locations submitted a bid to host HQ2. 

Things are done different in America and most offered various incentives unthinkable here in the UK (the highest ‘bid’ being $7billion from New Jersey).

For me, the most interesting bid was that of tiny Stonecrest Georgia. There, the city council offered 345 acres of its own land and, best of all, have said they will rename the city to become City of Amazon. 

Brilliant, but not brilliant enough because, in the end, the only language companies such as Amazon speak, is that of money. 

Amazon have announced the final 20 cities. 

In there are the usual suspects (LA, Boston, New York, New Jersey and many locations around Washington DC) as well as a few interesting, up and coming cities, such as Denver and Austin, Texas. 

Big losers include Detroit and Houston both of whom have described their loss as a wake-up call.

Finally, it is with regret that I need to report that Amazon didn’t bite, 

Heroic Stonecrest didn’t make the cut and so will remain known as the city of Stonecrest…that is of course until the next IPA mega-bid. 

Having outgrown Cupertino California, Apple have already launched a HQ2 search of their own. What price city of Apple? 

China? Follow in Marco Polo's Footsteps and FInd Out Yourself

A country of 1.4 billion people, spanning 5 time zones, with an economy worth £12trillion.

China can be easily described in numbers – impressive ones at that – but nothing prepares you for the shock of growth experienced during any visit today.

I write this following my fifth trip to the Middle Kingdom this autumn.

An intense week included promoting the Midlands in Shanghai, as well as Derby and Derbyshire in our twin city of Hefei.

The Shanghai leg included presentations at the large UK pavilion located in the China International Industrial Fair (itself one of the world’s largest business exhibitions with 165,000 visitors).

Over 60 delegates came out from the Midlands, supported by a phalanx of government officials and a Cabinet Minister (Sajid Javid), as well as companies such as Rolls-Royce, who kindly sent their Head of China down from Beijing.

Derby and Derbyshire were represented by a delegation of 20 - including senior people from the City, County, University, tourism and businesses - all of whom then took the bullet train on a journey 300 miles west to Hefei in the province of Anhui, continuing to evolve civic and business relationships.

This time, once I’d returned, something felt very different.

I noticed significantly more interest being expressed from business colleagues, many of whom were asking me numerous questions, intrigued to get an insight into what modern China is actually like?

It seems that, as the west appears increasingly perturbed and agitated, the east is becoming more confident about its destiny.

Savvy business people are sensing this and want to know how seriously to take China and the wider region.

As the UK leaves the EU in 2019, one of the most pressing questions is whether our separation will turn out to be an opportunity or threat in dealing with places like China. 

My recommendation to anyone interested is very simple… go visit.

Either take one of the many government-organised trade missions, or actually just go on a break.

Put it this way.

Imagine you were alive in 1917 and were offered an opportunity to visit New York City - in 12 short hours - to glimpse the emerging United States of America. I suspect you would take it and you would have come back armed with important knowledge about its ambition, energy and desire.

Well, for New York and USA in 1917, read Shanghai and China in 2017.

On the one hand, many aspects of that country are familiar to us – most especially the food, which permeates every town in the UK via the ubiquitous take-aways. Din Sum, Chow Mein, Canton and Sichuan, have all entered the British lexicon. On this level we feel we know China.

Yet still, China itself holds an air of mystery.

Ever since the thirteenth century writings of that Venetian with a serious travel bug - Marco Polo – westerners have imagined a place of myth and fable.

Of course, during the nineteenth century this bubble was burst big-time when the British invaded China.

Imagine that. Britain actually invaded more than once, starting in 1839 - fighting two wars, both astonishingly aimed at forcing opium onto Chinese people in order to create an income stream for the UK. Not a proud moment.

Since then, China has suffered political turmoil; from the collapse of the dynasty system and subsequent revolution of 1949, through to Chairman Mao’s violent Cultural Revolution and then the introduction of the free market by Deng Xiaoping.

The political and economic system being operated in China today is one that is difficult for us to comprehend – a liberal free market operated within a centralised communist political state. Think sweet and sour.

Current President, Xi Jinping, is now firmly in control and recently launched a plan that sketches out the next steps in the country’s economic growth.

Many in the west still see China as a place that produces low value goods, those cocktail umbrella sticks and plastic toys. Others perceive it as a threat, seeking to copy intellectual property, reverse engineering our products.

Both of these perceptions are increasingly out of date.

Yes, there is still low value and doppelganger production but this is in decline, being replaced by the growth of a domestic consumer economy and hi-tech research, development and manufacturing.

A country that produces 8 million graduates each year is not going to be spending too much time on T-Shirt production.

The ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy sets an ambition to become a global, hi-tech leader in various industries, including advanced IT and robotics.

I saw some evidence of this on a visit to a company called Guoxuan High-Tech in Hefei.

The campus we visited was home to 800 engineers focused on research into Lithium battery power for use in the automotive sector.

Ironically, this was the same week that Donald Trump visited China, eagerly marking America off the green-tech pitch and announcing his intention to reopen coalmines as a source of power.

The geo-politics are important and the response of President Xi was to position himself, and China, as the global lead in open economy and multi-lateral trade.

One of China’s other strategies – known as Belt and Road – is to support infrastructure that connects the country with partner nations.

This example of soft power, underpinned by hard cash, has thrown up projects such as a new capital for Egypt – a brand new metropolis of 6million people to be built 30 miles from Cairo – funded using Chinese cash.

It’s the stuff you couldn’t have made up just a few short years ago.

So, should we be afraid?

I believe there are opportunities for the UK, but only if we see China through 21st century eyes. It’s important to build relationships on a basis of respect, trust and mutual benefit.

Despite our history, I find the Chinese friendly, humble even and instinctively pro-British. There are definitely opportunities for trade and investment, as well as educational, cultural, tourism and sporting links.

I can especially see significant opportunities for local companies with premium products to sell to the well-heeled Chinese middle class consumer – ‘Made in Britain’ remains a credible moniker with this group.

I picked up tangible frustration in China that our government is too passive – apparently Trade Secretary Liam Fox is yet to visit China – and there is a pressing requirement if we have any hope of creating the oft-mentioned ‘Global Britain’.

However, it can’t all be left to government. Maybe we all need to get off our proverbials and get onto planes, quickly shaking off any outdated perceptions and pro-actively engage with the 21st century’s greatest opportunity.